16 African countries to benefit from new UNESCO project for the protection of underwater cultural heritage

UNESCO training of underwater archaeologists in Madagascar to counter the pillaging of historic wrecks © UNESCO

The Government of Japan is supporting a new UNESCO project to raise awareness and strengthen capacities for the protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage in the Africa region that will directly benefit Angola, Benin, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan and Tanzania over the next two years.

The Japan Funds-in-Trust to UNESCO project “Building Capacity and Raising Awareness for Underwater Cultural Heritage Research in Africa” was developed in close collaboration with the National Museums of Kenya and will offer support for regional trainings and public awareness on the protection of underwater cultural heritage as well as the creation of capacity building materials on the techniques and methodologies for conservation and protection.

Thirty participants from 16 African countries will benefit from two intensive two-week training workshops, which will be organized in Kenya in 2019 and 2020 and benefit from the guidance, expertise and resources of the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

The project also aims to strengthen synergies with local communities and train participants on how to raise awareness and involve local stakeholders in their efforts to protect and promote underwater cultural heritage such as shipwrecks, sunken cities and burial sites, some of which provide valuable historic traces of the Slave Trade.

“The Underwater Cultural Heritage in Africa is under serious threat from treasure hunters, uncontrolled industrial development and lack of supervision,” said Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa. “This project will contribute to raising awareness of the importance of safeguarding Africa’s vulnerable underwater heritage, and encourage UNESCO Member States to put in place sound policies for researching, managing and promoting underwater cultural heritage in the Africa region,” she added.

Africa has a rich maritime cultural heritage, which is an important part of its identity, national pride, a source of scientific information and a vector for sustainable tourism. At a regional and global level, the project will contribute to the achievement of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), notably SDG 11.4 “strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage”; SDG 14.5 “conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on best available scientific information”; and SDG 14.7; “increase the economic benefits to SIDS and LDCs from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.” The project also responds to African Union’s Agenda 2063, Aspiration 5: “An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics”, which specifically calls for developing measures to fight against illicit trade in cultural property. 


2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage

Sustainable Development Goal 11, and 14

African Union’s Agenda 2063

National Museums of Kenya

Japan Funds in Trust to UNESCO